Six Nations Preview: Scotland

IT IS TIME for Scotland to lay down a marker and show that their days as pushovers are over. Another Six Nations campaign is coming up in a week and the World Cup is fast approaching. Next Saturday, Scotland are lookinSix_Nations_Championship.svgg to win their first opening fixture since 2000 as they travel to Paris. At the same time, they are looking for their first win in Paris since 1999. Surely, it is not going to be an easy game to overturn Les Blues. However, the sudden shift in playing style has been a boom to the Scottish side under Vern Cotter. The question now is whether the encouraging run of games in the Autumn Internationals, which saw high-scoring victories over Argentina and Tonga and a remarkable effort against the reigning World Champions, can translate into success in this year’s Six Nations. Scotland will be opening their campaign with a trip to Paris, before they will be hosting Wales and Italy at BT Murrayfield. England away and Ireland at home are the last two fixtures.

With a number of southern hemisphere imports, the New-Zealander has opted for a relatively young side which is looking to build a fundament for the upcoming World Cup in September. Cotter has in recent interviews clarified that he intends to play an intense and hard-hitting rugby with players that desire to go forward. There can be no doubt that his selection reflects this change of philosophy.

The most significant aspect of the team selection is that Cotter has opened the door to four particular Edinburgh players. This includes a surprise call up of Hugh Blake ahead of some firmly established players like Kelly Brown. Despite the fact that he has yet to play for Edinburgh, Cotters seems confident that the youngster’s Super Rugby experience can bring something to the Scottish game plan. In addition to the New Zealand-born flanker, Cotter has called up the interesting prospects of scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, and the forwards Been Toolis and Hamish Watson. Besides Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, Hidalgo-Clyne is the only reliable goal-kicker in this Scottish side. Under nasty conditions, the accuracy of Hidalgo-Clyne’s boot secured Edinburgh the win away to Connacht earlier this month. Undoubtedly an interesting talent with raw pace, of which could potentially be useful in the closing stages of a game in the next couple of months. His team mate, Hamish Watson, is another player with blistering pace and a ferocious work-ethic at the breakdown. They lack experience at Test level. No doubt about it. That being said, they all represent Cotter’s vision for a new-born Scotland. And they surely add a much-needed dimension to their game, a non-existing dimension in last year’s Six Nations campaign in which the only win came after a late drop-goal by Duncan Weir in the closing minutes against Italy away.

In the injury absence of Grant Gilchrist, the lock who captained the side for two matches last summer, Laidlaw has once again been given the armband. Other significant players Cotter’s side will have to manage without are the talents of Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir. The inspiring outings last autumn by Russell indicate that Cotter might not lose any sleep over the absence of Weir in the coming weeks. That is not the case when it comes to the torn calf and the shoulder problem of David Denton and Sean Maitland respectively. As a matter of fact, David Denton was the only specialist No. 8 in the original 32-man squad presented by Vern Cotter. Denton, considered a crucial element in a physical Scotland pack, has now been replaced by Johnnie Beattie. The former Glasgow player has since 2012 earned his living in Montpellier and Castres. So far this season he has suffered a poor run of form. The loss of Denton might not be as monumental and devastating as if Laidlaw was to pick up an injury, but whether Beattie has what it takes to make the most of his Scotland opportunity are to be seen in the coming weeks.

That aside, there are encouraging aspects that indicate that Scotland are onto something. Eleven tries were scored in the Autumn Internationals and particularly the performances of Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, and Tommy Seymour are promising stuff. Their creativity and pace will be pivotal for Scotland. Moreover, they have a physical pack that will definitely prove to be a test for the contenders for the title. More importantly, Scotland are one of three sides with three home games. Wales, Italy, and Ireland will all have to travel to BT Murrayfield in the next two months. Its atmosphere will be an important fundament and element for Scotland if they are to have a successful campaign. A new-look Scotland can definitely put the big guns under significant pressure if they come away from the first two tricky games against France and Wales with a win.

Young player to look out for: Hamish Watson
Star player: Greig Laidlaw (cpt)
Most tries Six Nations 2015: Tommy Seymour